Thirty years of progress

Dr. David Thomas, professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. —Stacey Rupolo

The Partnership recently celebrated its 30th anniversary at its leadership summit weekend on the Vineyard. Approximately 360 of the commonwealth’s most successful and culturally diverse business leaders, CEOs, and other corporate professionals gathered to hear speakers, take part in relevant discussions surrounding diversity, and network under the tents on the grounds of the future Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Founded in Boston in 1987 in part to address the city’s challenging racial landscape, the Partnership has grown to address today’s more global business climate.

Bennie Wiley, a seasonal resident of West Tisbury, first led the Partnership, and brought the first leadership weekend event to Martha’s Vineyard. Current president and CEO of the Partnership Carol Fulp splits her time between Boston and Oak Bluffs.

An accomplished professional, Ms. Fulp was senior vice president of corporate responsibility and brand management at John Hancock Financial. President Obama appointed her as a representative to the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, and that experience has impacted her vision of the future.

“Workforce demographics are shifting; the marketplace is shifting with global markets,” Ms. Fulp said in an interview following the leadership retreat. “They need individuals who look like the people they’re marketing to.”

Ms. Fulp believes Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect place for the Partnership to gather every summer, describing the Island as “the oldest African-American resort in the country.”

“Bennie Wiley brought 31 individuals to the Vineyard that first summer, and we now have 4,000 alum,” Ms. Fulp said.

“This Island has strong and deeply diverse roots,” Ms. Fulp said. “We should only encourage and maintain and grow across ethnicity, given our history. If we don’t do that, our history is lost, and we’ll look like any other resort island, and that’s not the beautiful place we know.”

During its 30-year history, the Partnership has collaborated with nearly 300 corporations, which have sponsored more than 4,000 multicultural executives and professionals in the organization’s leadership-development programming.

As part of the weekend events this time around, Ms. Fulp facilitated a conversation with guest speaker Dr. David Thomas titled “Diversity Matters” on Sunday, June 11. Mr. Thomas is currently the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He also served as a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where he was dean from 2011 to 2016. His research addresses executive development, cultural diversity in organizations, leadership, and organizational change.

Dr. David Thomas, professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, left, is interviewed by Carol Fulp, president and CEO of Partnership Inc. —Stacey Rupolo

Mr. Thomas said he’s been involved with the Partnership in some capacity since 1990, and that the organization is more relevant than when it began 30 years ago, as evidenced by its growth.

“When diversity works, it speeds up innovation,” he told attendees. He said diversity in the workplace begins with self-awareness.

“Take risks, experiment, make the choice to speak up for yourself, and take the responsibility to leverage your platform,” Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Thomas said people find it difficult to give up the idea of belonging, even in the workplace. But, he said, they need to be willing to keep their own identity while still fitting into the culture of their work environment.

He recommended that professionals continually look to the future, keeping themselves connected to the ever-changing corporate world.

“Look at new ways that might disrupt old ways,” Mr. Thomas said. “Use technology to disrupt patterns deeply embedded in organizations.”

Partnership Inc. hosted its 30th anniversary leadership summit on Martha’s Vineyard. —Stacey Rupolo

He advised caution when deciding whether to accept a new position, making sure the career move is one that is headed into the future of the company, not one stuck in its past. “Is it where the company is going, as opposed to where it’s been?” he said.

Mr. Thomas said it is important to maintain a high level of “emotional intelligence” along with intellectual intelligence in the corporate world. “You have to have the ability to learn about yourself and how you experience the world.

“Many people get labeled as arrogant, and they’re not bad people, but they lack emotional intelligence and self-awareness,” he said. “You need truth-tellers around you. I can tell you by experience that it’s painful to have truth-tellers around you, but you need people to help you reflect on what your contribution to the problem is.”

Mr. Thomas took questions at the end of his presentation, with one gentleman asking how to go about taking a leadership role in an organization when it means creating change and disrupting the status quo.

“Think about how to build allies around what you’re doing,” Mr. Thomas said. People in the workplace can be averse to change, and leadership must approach that challenge using emotional intelligence, he recommended. “How do I as a leader help people heal, and show that I appreciate their humanity?” he said. “You have to be even more adept at communication, and you have to show people that you respect their humanity.”

For more information on the Partnership, or to find out how to connect with the group of culturally diverse professionals, visit, or call vice president Carmen Arce-Bowen at 617-988-6160.